News 29 October 2016

This is the latest excuse for Custody Deaths

29 October 2016

With 13 sudden deaths in police custody in the UK being blamed on “excited delirium”, we look at this controversial medical term that is dividing professionals.

Jacob Michael, Died in police custody 2011

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– 25 years old

– Restrained by 11 police officers

– Witnesses saw him being hit by police batons and sprayed with pepper spray

– Evidence of broken ribs and torn liver

– Conclusion of death: Excited Delirium

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Natasha McKenna, Died in police custody 2015

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– 37 years old

– Restrained by 6 police officers 

– Shocked with taser 5 times

Strapped to a chair

– Suffered from Bi-Polar, no narcotics found in her system

– Cause of Death: Excited Delirium

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Sheku BayohDied in police custody 2015

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– 31 years old

– Father of 2

– Restrained by 9 police officers after reports of man with a knife

– Use of batons, pepper spray, wrist and ankle restraints 

20 cuts and bruises to his face, a broken rib, and a large cut to his forehead

– Found to be unarmed

– Cited during investigation: Excited Delirium

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Excited delirium is a medical condition describing a state that can include being aggressive, being unaffected by pain and exhibiting extraordinary strength.

There is an increasing fear that this is being introduced as a cause of death more frequently to justify, or turn the responsibility back onto the victim and away from police treatment. 

The confusion arises where the police claim the victim was in a state of excited delirium, perhaps, justifying their response or behaviour. However, with the Royal College of Emergency Medicine classifying excited delirium as a state of medical emergency this would be misleading. Surely a medical emergency should be something the police can identity and help, not react and trigger something that has led to deaths?

Training police on the ability to identify this, which can include symptoms such as psychosis, aggression or violence, excessive strength and insensitivity to pain, they might also have a dramatic increase in their body temperature, leading to profuse sweating and the inappropriate removal of clothing with their heart rate and breathing might be abnormally fast. Unfortunately, this is more likely to be triggered by amphetamines such as cocaine and speed. 

Families of those who have died in police custody are now focusing on clarity and understanding around the term, as well as fearing that the term could continue the culture of shifted responsibility and victim blaming.

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